Royal Mail sell-off: Thatcherism lives on

Before postal workers even have a chance to strike over the plan.

 

Thatcherism lives on well into the new millennium it seems with the news that the government will rush the sale of Royal Mail before postal workers have a chance to strike over the plan.

Nothing could be more polarising this week following the now seemingly heroic Labour bravely, although perhaps unwisely throwing down the gauntlet to the energy companies while the Con-Dems attempt to royally screw the nation out of its postal service.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is balloting 100,000 of its members on a nationwide strike over the privatisation, as well as on changes to salary and pensions.

Voting in the strike ballot will close on 16 October while Royal Mail should be privatised by 15 October. The earliest a strike could take place is 23 October, making the whole thing seem a little bit pointless.

The depressingly low value of the post office has been placed between £2.6bn and £3.3bn after the government announced it will beginning selling shares between 260p and 330p each.

Bear in mind the businesses profits to the 52 weeks to the end of March jumped to £403m, up from £152m for the previous year on the back of its growing parcel delivery service, while, admittedly, the letter industry dies a long, torturous death trapped under an ever growing pile of junk mail.  

Despite its problems, many may struggle to see the upside of such a sale considering we are now seeing the long term affects of the utilities sell off. So what are the, hypothetical, pros?

Business secretary Vince Cable has said that the Royal Mail needs the capital this IPO will bring in order to modernise. In a kind of confused agreement chief executive at Royal Mail Moya Greene said that the company would "not change" while being better able to compete in a competitive market. That’s a thinker.

Vince and Moya are right in some respects; Royal Mail operates in an increasingly competitive market and, unlike the energy companies and the banks, the services on offer are not seen as one indistinguishable gelatinous blob, all giving the exact same service at the same price but with a different, just as ugly, face.

It’s not just a question of picking a provider and sticking with them until you get so pissed off you switch to a different one where the cycle begins all over again (in a way painfully reminiscent of out system of government). Royal Mail has to compete to be the first choice everyday of private people and businesses when there seems to be more UPS and FedEx trucks on the road than ever.

Perhaps privatisation is the way forward this time. If previous governments hadn’t done such a lamentable job the last few times, allowing big business overseas to take us all to the cleaners, maybe people would be able to see beyond the failures of the past to entertain the idea that this time it might work.

But the fear of stagnation, greedy profiteering, shady board room deals are not going to be far from peoples minds and pulling a fast one on the CWU in the back is unlikely to be seen as a fair but shrewd business tactic.

With the bull rush move of not allowing Royal Mail staff (who will be expected to carry a 10 per cent share of the company in less than a month) to have their say and, if they so choose to, call a strike, it seems the biggest government sell off since the early 90s is off to a bad start.

But hey, something’s got to pay for that sinking ship called HS2, right?

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.